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tv   Charlie Rose  WHUT  July 10, 2009 9:00am-10:00am EDT

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and you ur w you st uil end u don'kn whe u've b unth d rose: theend of your >> that's t. >>os so ly 7cod to writeth i verl sen yes. any intentiotori the book sawn oayand iteci abre p of t le lookacefle and fee comfortainwingessons he eernc s. cer of th books ener d ihoug i'reedwrit it so i can feel comfortable with these lessons, i'll write the book. and by coincidence, i came across a very young man who had already written a small book on vietnam who teaches at the naval academy, professor of history.
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his interest is that. and he wanted to help me do the research on it. so i was capable then of doing what i hadn't been able to do before. i didn't take any papers with me i didn't have any diary. so that's how it came about. >> rose: the question that still is there, why not write this book, why not come out... you began to have doubts early. when you left government, why not say when you left government "this war is a mistake" as you had privately expressed to the president. >> no. no. that's... this is a complicated question. >> rose: okay. >> please give me time now to make this clear. what i had expressed to the president and what i strongly believed was we couldn't win the war militarily. and my doubts on that began very early. and you'll see in the book, every one of statement is footnoted and documented. in december 1965 i said to the president i thought there was only a one in three chance of winning the war militarily.
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i said well, at best, one in two. the dialogue is right there. he said "do you mean to say we can't win it militarily?" i said "mr. president, my judgment will not be shared by the secretary of state, by the chairman of the joint chiefs, by many others, but that's my judgment." as the years went by, i gained increasingly that belief. but-- and this is the important point-- i believe it had threat was just as great as the others did. >> rose: in 198? >> in 1968. you're absolutely right. >> rose: so anybody that wanted bob mcnamara so say "this war was wrong in 1968," it was impossible for bob mcnamara to say it because he didn't believe it? >> i didn't believe.... >> rose: it was wrong, war, in 1968. >> let me not use quite those words. i didn't believe that there was no threat. i believed that in a sense eisenhower's statement in 1954 of the dominos and in 1961 to
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president kennedy and me if we lost laos and vietnam, we'd lose all southeast asia. if we lost all of southeast asia we're likely to lose all of area, including india. if we did that, the power of the communists against western europe and against this nation would increase. now, that was what appeared to be at risk if we lost vietnam. >> rose: that's the ideology that shaped all of you. johnson, kennedy, everybody. >> absolutely. >> rose: we understand that. >> but what i think by your question those who asked this question don't understand is it's one thing to say mcnamara believed and told the president that the war was not winnable militarily. it's another thing to say that he believed therefore we should just say to hell with it and go. now i believe we should have said that then. but at that time, i was still obsessed with this soviet threat. give me a second to tell why. because i always ask questioners on the telephone or t.v.-- how old are you? and most of them are 40, 45. i say, well, i understand your
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position, you don't understand ours. let me start by saying, we were wrong. but what have we done? rusk had been in world war ii, kennedy had been in world war ii. i had been there three, four, five years of fighting. the germans and the japanese when churchill said if we had started earlier, we wouldn't have lost the millions that we lost because we delayed. and what rusk said-- and i quote a memo in there from him-- i never saw the memo until i began to write this book. rusk said to the president in july of '65, "mr. president, if we don't stop them there, if we don't prevent loss of vietnam, there will be a catastrophic war." he meant world war iii. i think that was totally wrong. today. then i didn't. i was concerned. now, why was i concerned? i'm sorry to take so much time but this is very important. >> rose: time we've got. >> i've gone through world war ii in three or four years. i had seen... after we won the
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war i had seen the soviets take over poland, hungary, czechoslovakia. i'd seen them try to subvert the established governments of france and italy. when i came to the pentagon... i was there seven years. in august of '61 the soviets tried to take berlin and when i called larry ngor stad, the supreme allied commander in europe, he sat in my office to ask how this was going to evolve he said "we may have to use nuclear weapons." think of it. in october '62, the soviets put nuclear-equipped missile in cuba. we came damn close to nuclear war. much closer than our public today understands. in june of '67, the egyptians said we're going to destroy israel and they thought they'd have the support of syria and the soviet union. the israelis preempted and knocked the hell out of them. after there, the hotline was used for a hot time, a cable was sent to our president saying "if you want war, you'll get war. " now, i'msyly trying to create the atmosphere that in a sense
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we were captives of. we misjudged the soviet and communist threat in asia. no question about that. but there was a reason for it. >> rose: the history of world war ii and the fear of communism." >> that's right. >> rose: back to my question. you believe it had war was not winnable in 1967 '68. not winnable. >> not winnable militarily. >> rose: you believed that in '67,' 6. >> that's correct. >>. >> rose: when did robert mcnamara decide the war was wrong, wrong, terribly wrong? >> well, that's a... let me answer quickly and then perhaps we should go back a bit. relatively later. five, seven years ago, something like that. because at that time i began to understand the communist threat was not what i visualized it to be and thought it was in the '06s and even the '70s. it wasn't until.... >> rose: so it wasn't until 1990? >> well, no, the '80s.
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>> rose: was it before the fall of saigon that you realized the war was wrong? >> i don't like to use that phrase. >> rose: is that your phrase? "the war was wrong"? >> terribly wrong. but that was later. before the fall of saigon, i continued to feel it wasn't winnable militarily and therefore what i had proposed to the president and what he eventually pushed and what president nixon and kissinger pushed was moving toward... to know,s and achieving them... a negotiated settlement, hopefully which would allow us to disengage militarily without losing vietnam. now, ultimately we didn't lose vietnam. >> rose: but we didn't have the domino theory. >> you are so right sfwfrjts that's why i think the war was wrong? >> two men who i think loved and respected each other-- johnson and i-- came to the point where i couldn't convince him and he couldn't convince me.
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and we had to part. now, who took the initiative? i honestly don't know. but i wrote a memorandum in may of '67 and another memorandum on november 1 of '67.... >> rose: all about halting bombing? >> about halting bombing. turning the military action in a sense over to the south vietnamese vietnamese. reducing u.s. casualties, pressuring the north vietnamese to negotiations in order to disengage. and he, i knew, wasn't prepared at that time to accept that. the november 1 memo i delivered to him by hand. it has a little note on it, you can see that. i said, mr. president, i haven't shown this to anybody, not to dean rusk, not to the chairman of the joint chiefs, not to the national security advisor because i know you may not agree with it. and i won't show it to them until you authorize me to. i never to this day have received an answer and i'm not criticizing johnson. i'm just saying that this was the dilemma we were in. it was an impossible situation.
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what i felt responsible for was to behave in a way that didn't give aud and comfort to the enemy. johnson in his last eight months in office was seeking to move towards negotiations. he was pursue.... >> rose: but.... >> no, listen. >> rose: okay. >> he was pursuing a course and he did achieve the beginning of negotiations in may of 1968 in paris. nixon was elected, as i recall, on a platform of ending the war. >> rose: secret plans. >> well, he was going to end the war. so he was engaged in attempting renegotiations. to be absolutely frank with you, my friend henry kissinger would talk to me about that. what could they do? but for me as ex-secretary of defense to come out and say "i know how to do this and to hell with what president johnson is trying to do or nixon and secret diplomacy, to hell with that, do
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it my way" that would have been irresponsible. >> rose: would it have been irresponsible for you with the experience you had had to be part of an important debate in this country over one of the significant events of the 20th century? this war? and what it has done in the consequence to the country, creating the cynicism you now speak out against. >> if that debate could have contributed to ending the war, yes. >> rose: could it have, in your judgment? >> well, at that time i didn't think so. >> rose: and now what do you think? >> well, i don't know all that mick son was trying to do. one of his key associates called me today, just two hours ago and told me some of the things he was doing, others associated with nixon at that exact time. and they... this associate of mine was trying... nixon's a friend of mine, was trying to move toward negotiation. i think... of course i didn't know that at the time. second place, i knew things were going on at that time.
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for me to stand on the outside and second guess this secret diplomacy i think would have been irresponsible. >> rose: you and your children have never discussed this war? >> no, that's not quite correct. >> rose: i read that. >> well, you're half right. what i said in the book and what i said on diane sawyer's program last week was that i never fully discussed my feelings or the war with my children and my wife. it was very, very difficult to do so. >> rose: help us understand that. >> well, it was so complex. i've tried to tell you today and i'm not sure your viewers will understand even after your dialogue with me. the complexity, as i suggested. we were almost obsessed with this soviet threat. if you face the possible of nuclear war twice within 4 or 36
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months-- and, by the way, there's in the book reverence to memoranda from the chiefs that said now mr. secretary and mr. president we believe you should do a, b, c. and if you do it you may welcome in conflict with the soviets and the chinese and if that happens you're going to have to go to nuclear war. now, these are terrible things and to have that on the one side and feel you can't accomplish it militarily on the other. >> rose: you cannot convince... >> how can you talk to your wife and children about it? >> rose: i find that almost impossible to believe, that the complexity of the issue not wa standing all that is too difficult... it seems to me it has something ngor do with very deep and personal emotions that you felt about this war, not the complexity of it and the forces at work here. >> oh, yeah. >> rose: but having to do with pain and deep sense... el sgr well, no, no, perhaps that's... you're quite right on that. but it's these two linked together, you see. put very simply, i didn't have the answer. and people were being killed.
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how can you talk about that without deep emotion? you ought to feel deep emotion about it. i did. now, we... i don't mean to say there wasn't contact with it. let me take a second to tell you this. >> rose: but... >> my children were deeply involved in all this. my middle child, daughter, had a very close friend who literally organized the protest marches, led the protest marches against the white house, against the president, against me. my daughter brought them home to dinner and we had dinner together several times and on one of these occasions after dinner we went into the library, we talked to 10:30. his last words as he left the room were "well, nobody can be all bad who loves the mountains as much as you do." now his name was sam brown. a year ago he was nominated to be ambassador to the c.s.e., the council on security and cooperation in europe. senator helms was opposing his nomination because he said this guy was a traitor during vietnam and to hell with him, we're not
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going to confirm him. >> rose: the demonstrator who led the mccarthy mccain. >> so sam asked me to write a letter to senator helms to say he wasn't a traitor, which i did. >> rose: but let me come back to family in a sense. you believe, if i understand it, that the stress of vietnam had a profound impact on your family. >> it brought ulcers to my wife and ulcers to my son. and trauma to all. >> rose: because of the consequences of the decisions being made and the fact that lives were being lost over policy. >> yes. yes, yes. anyone who has been responsible, whether it be a uniformed military officer or an official of government responsible for sending men to risk their lives must be haunted by the deaths that occurred. and all of us who have had that responsibility know we've made
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mistakes. some big, some small. the same colonel that we were talking about earlier.... >> rose: he's going to be on this broadcast. >> he says he sent men to death. he's the most decorated living soldier in the army. he isn't men to death and in a sense it haunts him. it haunts me. of course it does. i believe today that ho chi minh was not a follower of stalin and kruschev, which i thought he was at the time. he was a tito. he was an asian tito. i believed the war in south vietnam was not a war of foreign aggression. i believe it was a civil war. i believe that it was the power of nationalism that was at stake there. i believe that under those circumstances no foreign army can substitute for the people of that country deciding a civil war themselves.
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it's impossible. now, these beliefs, they may seem obvious to you. they weren't obvious to me five years ago. >> rose: i've... but let me ask this question. >> i'm wiser today. >> rose: let me ask this question. >> that's why i was able to write. >> rose: let me ask this question. then if you had believed what you just said... >> i would have written it... two things. let me just say this. i would have written the book the moment i believed it. number one. >> rose: no questions? >> no question about it. >> rose: the moment you believed that, you would have written the book. secondly, what if you'd come to that conclusion as a... >> if i had come to it in '65.... >> rose: '66, '67, '68. >> i tell you i would have fought like hell to stop the war and withdraw... take our losses and get out. and this, by the way, is one of the lessons. we're going to make mistakes. i mean we, the people, we, the leaders, we're going to make mistakes. and for god's sake, when you make mistakes and people are being killed and you know you've made a mistake, cut your losses and get out!
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now if i believed then what i've just told you, i would have fought to my death to get out. without any question. i didn't believe it. what i believed was half right. we couldn't win it militarily. what i feared was if we didn't at least prevent communist control of vietnam, we would endanger the security of the west. and i was trying to balance those. i went to the world bank, i was there 13 years. the other day the "new york times" called it a... it's the best job in the world but it isn't a sinecure. and i worked my tail off for 13 years to try to advance the welfare of the three billion people in the developing countries. and i'm proud of it. now, i don't know how history will judge me. >> rose: but when somebody comes along and says mcnamara did that because he needed some way to ease his aching soul about the responsibility... >> that's total bony!
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i loved it! i went there because i wanted to do it and i was very pleased that i did have the opportunity. >> rose: when you look now at the future and the lessons that are to be learned, is there some lesson here about people in power... and i come back to how long it took, in a sense, that no one can... didn't... some lesson about listening, some lesson about making sure, you know, that... >> i'm going to give you what you'll think is the wrong answer. >> rose: no, i don't think so. go ahead. >> don't always listen to the polls. don't always listen to the majority of the congress. don't always listen to the majority of the press. the majority of people through the polls, the majority of the congress, the majority of the press were in support of what was going on in vietnam during much of that period. that doesn't absolve us as
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leaders or what we did. we were responsible to lead, not follow. and we led wrongly. so that's one lesson. i hope people all understand that. the leaders are responsible to lead, not follow. that's the first point. second point, for god's sake, i don't want the people to take the lesson you shouldn't serve in government, you'll get crucified. i said the other night and the morning... i said on t.v., the morning after my children, all three of them separately called and they just were almost in tears. they were so pleased. >> rose: this was... >> this was the day after the diane sawyer show where i was almost in tears myself. but what i said on that show was after seven years of stress and trauma and pain in the family, i believe every one of us-- my wife, craig, my son, kathy, my daughter, margie my daughter,
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i-- were better for the seven years of government service. and that's the message i want to leave to the american people. for god's sake, when your government asks you to serve, serve. it's your obligation, it's your duty and you'll be better for it. that's what i believe. >> rose: and what did they say? >> they were in tears. they so believe it. >> rose: that nothing that happened should rob a sense of serving country? >> that's correct. that's correct. >> rose: if the call had come again after all that you've been through, you don't regret the day that you accepted john kennedy's request? >> it was the proudest day of my life and is. and i do'd do it all over again. hopefully wiser.
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but wiser or not, i'd do it all over again. and i want to see every american do that. >> rose: what lessons are applicable to today? especially some comparisons are being made between iraq and vietnam. >> well, i don't want to... by stating lessons i don't want to suggest that these should be applied to the iraq situation. if you think so, do it. but these are lessons that apply in general to security. >> rose: all right. >> the first lesson is empathize with your opponent. now i don't use the word "empathy" as synonymous with sympathy. i use the word empathy as understand your opponent. we did not understand the north vietnamese. they didn't understand us. with one exception. we really didn't understand kruschev. the one exception was tommy thompson. critical moment in a sense prevented the nuclear war. >> rose: he said to president kennedy... >> he said to mr. kennedy, you're wrong, president kennedy. president kennedy, we had a soft
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message from kruschev that we could accept. we have a tough message that we couldn't accept. the tough message had been publicized before we received it. the soft message was sent in secret. we wanted to.... >> rose: but the soft message came before the tough message. >> well, it's a little uncertain. a little uncertain. you're right, it did, but it's not clear in... in any event, which message to respond to. tommy said "you've got to respond..." the majority of kennedy's advisors said "respond to the tough message." >> rose: including your friend general lemay. >> yeah, but tommy said "mr. president, respond to the soft message." the president said that's what's wrong with you, tommy, you don't understand politics. no political leader can put out a tough message in the public and in a sense accept a lesser deal than that. he couldn't survive. tommy said "mr. president, i know that man, i've lived with him. i knew his wife." he and jane, his wife, had lived with kruschev, vacations and otherwise. he said "i believe he will accept your acceptance of the
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soft message." kennedy said, "well, it's a risk but i'll do it." kruschev did. he prevented a nuclear war. >> rose: because thompson believed he was looking for a way out. >> that's right. and he knew what kennedy wanted. >> rose: suppose we had empathized with the north vietnamese, what could we have done. >> they didn't empathize with us. >> rose: but we can't worry about that. >> well, it's hard for only one party only. but what we could have done... the second lesson for my life is for god's sake communicate with your opponent. that's true in business and it's true with non-governmentals and it's sure as hell true in security relationships. we did not have any contact, direct contact, between president johnson and ho chi minh during the entire period. we came closest in a deal that, in a sense, i worked on with henry kissinger who was then professor at harvard. we came damn close to getting it. >> rose: it would have been possible? >> it would have been possible. >> rose: for the two of them to talk? >> that's right.
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well, or to have a high-ranking emissary to go over there. and the "new york times" had an article that said that hussein was trying to make a deal with us before. >> rose: and a lebanese businessman went to see richard pearl in london. >> yeah, but my god assuming for the moment... >> a very disturbing article. >> it was disturbing. >> rose: and the c.i.a. rejected it according to the "new york times," right? >> well, i was going to say, that was hussein's idea and i'm not sure it was. but if it was, he chose a damn poor way of communicating. you don't do it through third-level individuals who can be disregarded. >> rose: but the main thing is communicate with the enemies and find out what they're... find out what their requirements are and what yours are and see if you can bring them together. >> one of the things for me having made this movie that is so disturbing is ostensibly robert mcnamara is talking about events that occurred 40, 50, 60 years ago.
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this was not intentional, but it became more and more obvious as we worked on the film. even though he's talking about history, is he could just as easily be talking about events that occurred four, five, six days ago. which gives me a funny feeling. >> rose: what kind of feeling? >> the question are we doomd? i would call it a feeling of despair, if you like. are we doomed to repeating endlessly the mistakes that we've made in the past. can we do things differently? his earliest memory... i should allow him to describe it rather than myself, but it's of world war i, armistice day, 1918. wilson's war to end all wars.
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if you like a preventative war... >> and the people thought we'd achieved that objective. how wrong they were. we human beings killed 160 million other human beings after the time president wilson thought was a war to end all wars. we killed them in conflict, within nations across borders in the 20th century. is that what we want for the 21st? it's not what i want. and my books and my statements and to some degree this film are directed toward trying to move toward that objective. avoiding 160 million fatalities in the 1st century. my friends have been killed in the island wars in the pacific. >> rose: guadalcanal... >> and iwo jima and the marianas and so on. so i understood what was being done. and there was a reason for it. but couldn't we have done it with less human killing? we leveled 69 cities. i'm forgotten how many in total we killed.
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something like 900,000. shouldn't there be some proportionality? should the human race set up a.... >> rose: but was the same thing true about the bombings in vietnam? could we have done it without.... >> yes. i think we could have. >> rose: were you that wise then? >> no, i wasn't. >> rose: was it some conclusion you'd come to later about proportionnalty? >> it wasn't clear. >> rose: it wasn't clear to you. >> it wasn't clear to me and today it isn't clear... i think it's clear to me, it's not clear to much of your audience, it's not clear to the human race. we the human race have not established any judicial framework within which war and crimes against humanity can be carried out. we have set up a court, the international court of crimes against humanity. our country is one of the few major countries that have not supported that. i know why. they're concerned that our people will be.... >> rose: brought to the fore. >> brought to the court by moammar qaddafi or somebody.
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and there's reason to fear that. but there are many safeguards in the international court procedures and we can negotiate more. we ought to accept the objective of trying to set some acceptable standards for that that will reduce casualties. >> rose: you don't want to second guess rumsfeld. >> absolutely not. i want to stop you one second. 71-- you won't believe this, 71 recorders, t.v., radio, magazine newspaper, from all over the world, australia, brazil, western europe, have asked me to comment on iraq. i haven't responded to one. the reason is i think it is irresponsible for an ex-secretary of defense to comment in any way on the actions of a president who's deeply involved in war with hundreds of thousands of our citizens at risk. and he is carrying out very delicate negotiations with the u.n. and other countries. i haven't said a word and i'm not going to. >> see, this is where we do disagree.
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>> rose: what do you disagree about? >> i think that it's very important for robert mcnamara to speak out about these issues. >> rose: i do, too. >> i know he has very, very strong feelings. i know he said things to me in private. ment >> i'll kill you if you repeat them! >> and, in fact, i won't repeat them out of respect for him and our relationship. but i know that he has spent a life... a large fraction of a life in public service. and he has learned a lot of things from that life. and it's important that he brings that knowledge to bear. >> rose: but he is not doing it in total. you know he's not, earl, come on! >> now wait a second.... >> rose: you just said that! >> i think that he could be more outspoken. >> he specifically thinks i should comment on the iraq situation. in the book, in retrospect and in the other two books i drew lessons. but those lessons can be applied
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to iraq. let people read the books and apply the lessons. i'm not going to criticize my president when he's in a war. up into but let me just suggest to you that one of the important things that you underlined other than empathy and other than communication is that we need to have public debate about the tse essential issues. you talk about that time after time but you're not willing to participate in the debate because of the silly rule you have. >> we haven't had a public debate. >> rose: you can participate in it. >> nobody asked me. >> rose: oh, but... lots of people asked. you just told me every reporter that's ever come to you asked you to participate in a debate. >> they didn't ask me for that. they wanted a one sided comment. >> rose: fair enough. suppose i put together a group of people including former secretaries of state and secretaries of defense to talk about where america goes iraq and later. you won't participate in that? you won't tell us what you think if, in fact, it might be important to the direction and decisions the country takes? the debate, not so much what
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happens here. >> well, let me say i think for senior official to debate in the midst of a war is the wrong time. our people are at risk. the debate may encourage the enemy. >> maybe it's even more critical we debate during war. >> i understand that. but just think this through. it may encourage the enemy. look what happened a few days ago.... >> rose: they always say that. that's what they said in vietnam and you know that. >> all right, all right, but it's true. look what happened a few days ago when the israeli general criticized israeli policies. that certainly encouraged the palestinians. is that what we want. >> rose: encouraged them to do what? >> to be tougher. to think there's weakness in the israelis. take, for example.... >> rose: wait a minute, do you think he should not have said that? we should not have in an interview with those three israeli journalists should not have raised questions for consideration? >> he didn't raise them for consideration, he said "our policies are wrong." >> rose: no, he spoke to the
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issue... yes, he did. but he spoke to the issue of how they were treating the palestinians and as to whether it was counterproductive and whether they were creating more problems. this isn't... listen. donald rumsfeld in his famous memo which came leaked out of the pentagon raised these very same questions. did he not? the secretary of defense raised if questions. >> in a different way. the implication of the israel general's comments as i read them was that he believed the israelis should change those policies and in a sense the palestinians should expect changes. >> rose: i think i would argue... whatever the decision ought to be made by the israelis they should make the decision. >> yes. >> rose: he's an israeli. >> i agree. >> he raised the question as to what was in the best interest of his country! >> i agree. >> rose: you have said that debate is in the best interest of decision making. >> but it depends on when the debate takes place. >> rose: but it shouldn't just be... suppose tommy thompson hadn't been there! the decision in that cabinet room... >> that was a closed debate. >> rose: john kennedy said that
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if, in fact, newspapers had printed some things, that he might not have made some mistakes that he made. you know that. >> take, fraction.... >> rose: you know that. >> wait a minute.... >> rose: with we making any inroads here? >> no. >> rose: you still think it's not important to have a debate? >> oh, i think it's important to debate. >> rose: not important for a former secretary of defense who hasn't been... who hasn't been secretary of defense since the '60s, more than 25 years ago, to speak out and say "this is what i've elevened and this is what the judgment at 85 i have about public events"? >> there's several points. the first point is that i don't have the information the president has and the secretary of defense has. >> rose: maybe he doesn't have the information you have in a different way. >> the judgment and experience. but in any event i'm not going to participate in public debate. >> one does not have to be omniscient to speak out. >> rose: exactly. >> let me give one example from the movie and it's certainly one
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of robert mcnamara's fundamental lessons. it's a lesson about multilateralism. he says in the course of the movie that we didn't listen to any of our allies. if we had listened to our allies in the course of vietnam, we wouldn't have been there. it's a direct quote. we couldn't have been there. now, this is actually a question for you. do you see any parallels in the current situation? >> i'm not going to answer that question. >> rose: well, there you go. >> on saturday, the critical moment, saturday, october 27, 1963, that was the critical moment. the president had... his council there, the chiefs, the secretaries of state and defense and national security advisor and director of c.i.a., we argued all day long about what to do. we weren't sure. we hadn't been able to get the damn missile out, we had to get them out. but we had photographs of missile on the soil of cuba. the c.i.a. said we don't think the warheads are there yet. the first batch of 20 warheads
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are coming on a ship that will be there in two or three days. we'd had a contingency plan of attacked developed. the first day's air strike was planned with shorties, larger than any day in kosovo. we had 180,000 troops mobilized in southeast u.s. ports. we had the shipping there. we were ready to go. at 4:00 p.m., the chief said, mr. president, we recommend unanimously that you undertake this attack within two days. it wasn't until 29 years later in january, 1992, that we learned that at that moment the soviets had about 170 nuclear warheads on the soil of cuba. stup already there. >> roughly 90 tactical and roughly 80 to be used in the missile to attack 90 million americans. that's how you make mistakes. >> rose: or you have bad intelligence. >> well, but we had a damn good intelligence outfit. i have tremendous admiration for the c.i.a. >> rose: were they wrong about
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the number of nuclear warheads? >> you're damn right. but can intelligence people be perfect? no! you've got to understand that. >> rose: perfect is not the difference between saying there are none on the island and having 92. >> well, the point i want to make is there are serious limits that will never be overcome to the intelligence you will have and have to depend on in relation to these critical decisions and you better be damn careful. and fortunately we lucked out. because at that moment kruschev saw,... he literally saw these 180,000 troops and he feared an invasion. and when kennedy sent that answer to him, i'm going to call it the soft message and basically accepted the deal kruschev so feared that the war would start before he could tell kennedy he accepted kennedy's acceptance that he sent a system down to the public radio transmitter in moscow, he said "hold that transmitter open, i
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have a message." it took normally six hours to communicate a message from kruschev to kennedy, written and translated and put into code and send it and decode it and send it to the white house. he was going to get it done in, effect, six minutes. we learned of his acceptance of kennedy's proposal, the action that delayed... that prevented nuclear war. we learned it over the public radio. >> rose: i want to ask this question, which is off the beaten path. compare johnson and kennedy. you sat with them, served with them. >> i can't do that in two minutes or 20 minutes or whatever. >> rose: did you get into this, earl? >> not really. >> well, yes, we did. not to contradict anybody. >> i had... >> come on! >> i didn't really compare them, i talked about each. i had... maybe the point to make is about johnson because ultimately i left. i had tremendous respect and
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affection for johnson. i think he had respect and affection for me. at the end we disagreed totally. and something had to give. and i was out. and i said to my friend kate graham, the former publisher of the "washington post." you know, to this day-- this is five or seven years ago before she died. i said "to this day, kay, i don't know whether i quit or i was fired." she said "you're out of your mind, of course you were fired." the reason i didn't know is because i had tremendous respect for johnson and i wanted to stay for as long as i could be of help. anyhow, i left and that was the proper thing because he and i were in total disagreement. >> i'm reminded in this conversation of how difficult you are to interview. >> rose: it reminds me, too, because i've been here before. (laughter) >> because one thing is that you have this implacable sense of rectitude. there are things that are proper
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to speak about and things which are improper. >> i do and i feel it very strongly. >> i know this. >> rose: we can respect you for that. >> no doubt about it. >> rose: do you think robert mcnamara is at peace with himself? >> no. >> what human being is? i hope they're not. >> rose: if you're not, what are you not at peace about? >> i think it's one of his virtues. >> i'm not at peace because i haven't been able to convince other people-- or at least enough other people-- of the soundness of some of my major thoughts. that i think are in their interests and the interests of the human race. >> rose: give me the most important of those. >> the most important of those is the one that chirac and blare referred to as the greatest threat to security in the 21st century. the risk of nuclear war. that's most important. it's not accepted and it should be and i'm intent to increase its acceptance. >> rose: i think we accept that but... >> well, i don't think we.... >> rose: we accept it but we don't do enough.
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we're not doing enough to... >> we're not applying that. >> rose: we have to have this part of this conversation. you expect him to say... you did bad things, he said. what did you mean? >> the war in vietnam for me is a very bad thing. >> rose: well, he didn't do the war in vietnam. >> he was certainly part of the war effort. he was the secretary of defense in the kennedy and johnson administration. >> rose: he could have resigned on principle. >> he could resigned on principle. there are many, many, many questions about the '60s, what happened in the war, the tragedy the true tragedy not only that we've started the war but even after he left the johnson administration in 1968 the war continued until 1975 with
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millions of vietnamese dying and tens of thousands of americans. >> rose: you've heard this before on this program even that the central thing that happened about that was that people felt like that even after you acknowledged that you had realized certain things about the war, you didn't speak out even then. >> well, that... again, for an ex-secretary of defense to speak out against a war.... >> rose: but americans were dying. >> but more americans... in the first place i might have been wrong because almost all of my associates believed i was wrong. but assuming i was correct and i think in hindsight i was, by speaking out publicly in the midst of a war, more americans could die. it would have given aid and comfort to the enemy. and that's absurd to suggest. >> rose: well, did you go in... >> i sure as hell went in and spoke to johnson in writing and orally. and that that's all on the record. that's why we broke. >> rose: and you now say the vietnam war is wrong, of course.
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>> well.... >> rose: you don't say that. >> that's not quite what i say. >> rose: what does he say? >> this is not well understood. >> well... >> let me make this point and i don't want to appear to be self-serving so i brought with me a thing i'm going to read. >> rose: fair enough. >> this is a little note from... i think it was the "new york times." yes, the "new york times," february 1 of this year. and it says... it refers to a book by a man named keegan and keegan wrote a book and he says "the vietnam war was not the brain child of three or four people. it was a product of a whole way of thinking about the world. it was for better or worse the logical consequence of the policy of containment." which is the policy we followed for 50 years set up by george cannon. and the brept and depth of support for american policy in vietnam, certainly the elite intellectual class was enormous. let's not suggest that it was somehow just the bundys or rostows, this was national consensus.
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this war was part of the cold war. it was a logical derivative of the cold war. now, i think we were wrong in many of our judgments. but at the time when you recognize how close we've come to war with the soviets-- three times in my seven years as secretary, september of '61, october of '62 and june of '67. we came close to war with the soviets. this vietnam was part of that. today that isn't recognized. it should be. >> rose: you expected something... you wanted him to confront what with respect to vietnam? >> there are so many questions. among them, certainly, mr. mcnamara's silence after he left the johnson administration. what's really interesting....
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>> rose: >> let me interrupt just for a moment. i wasn't silent when i wrote that book in retrospect. >> this was much later. >> laid out the decision making process. the decisions that were wrong and the lessons that should be learned from it. >> yes. >> nobody else has done anything like that. not only in vietnam but other situations are comparable. that's what should be expected of every leader. >> and i think it's extraordinary and interesting book. one of a kind in many, many ways. >> rose: but.... >> um, it's not that there's some hidden "but" here that hasn't been addressed. there are going to be many, many unsolved mysteries about vietnam about robert mcnamara. >> about the human race killing
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people. they're unsolved. these are difficult issues. >> unsolved questions, if you like, about evil. about the problem of evil and where it comes from. >> one of the greatest theologians said "how much evil should be done to achieve good." that's a basic problem. >> i think we have this very simplistic idea that evil is the product of evil people. that there are a host of iagos in the wings rubbing their hands together conniving, calculating, plotting. and then the solution is just, well, let's find out where they are and let's go get them. let's kill them. let's lock them up. and there you have it. a solution to the problem of evil. but what if evil is much harder to identify? what if we're all capable of it?
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>> and what if at times it's necessary to do good? that was lieber's point. >> yes. i'm reminded-- and i have been reminded again and again in the course of making the movie-- how complex these decisions were that this man faced. this is not to excuse what he did or to apologize for him. that's not my role. nor would i want to do so. i felt part-- and i steel feel-- part of this enterprise of trying to examine history and a man's role in it. it's a very odd movie, because you see movies about history, you'll see five, six, seven, eight or more characters arguing with each other.
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this movie contains only one individual, robert mcnamara. sometimes i see the shadow figure, sometimes i see the 85-year-old mcnamara arguing with the 45-year-old mcnamara. and we can ask ourselves, is it the same man or are these different men? or in what way are they the same? or in what way are they different? one thing that i do know for sure is that the enterprise of trying to figure out who we are and why we do what we do is a very deep and important enterprise and for better for worse, this man is engaged in it. >> that's what i've been devoting myself to for 5 years. and i make no apologies for it. it is an essential step toward advancing the human race. will i ever understand why he
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won't speak out against the current administration? i probably won't! >> no. >> rose: i don't think you will. >> loyalty? >> no, it's not loyalty. it's... >> a sense of... what is proper and improper? >> it's a sense of what's in the interest of the american people today when americans are dying in iraq. that's not the time for an ex-secretary of defense to, as you call it, speak out. >> rose: what do you think of the idea that all that is required for evil to triumph... >> is what? >> rose: is for good men, in this case, not to speak up. >> well, i have spoken out in retrospect. >> rose: but i'm talking about current situations. again, it's not that you're going to come down on one side or the other, it's to speak out. >> read the book and you decide whether it applies to current situation. >> rose: but you are the figure. you are the person. you can't say "read the book and you can decide." anyway, i want to move beyond that.
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>> i think you're running out of time. >> rose: maybe, i'll be okay, though. i'll make that choice. what did you... in this search to explain, to understand, to come to terms with, how far are you on that? i mean, is it... have you reached where you wanted to be in terms of... >> let me tell you, i'm 87 years old and i'm running out of time. so therefore i'm sort of accelerating the process. in a sense, that's why i did the film. >> rose: was this a kind of catharsis for you? >> no, no, not catharsis. >> rose: well, then what. >> it was a chance to... >> to reach... >> to reach a large audience with ideas that are very controversial and to stimulate their thinking. and debate. >> rose: robert mcnamara, dead at aged 93.
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captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh
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